After a lengthy battle between the studio and acclaimed South Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong, Bong’s film, Snowpiercer has finally made it to America; kind of. Opening in limited release, Comast On Demand has picked it up almost on the same day it opened in theaters. Shot over a year ago, the argument between Bong and the studio, if I am not mistaken was the running time. Usually, I will side with the director and this is the case with Joon-ho Bong. Snowpiercer is not a great film but it is a good film worth watching either at home or on the big screen.
The film opens, literally in the thick of things as filthy people are ordered to line up for roll call on a train, called the Snowpiercer. Earth has become a frozen wasteland but not the way you would think. It seems meddling environmentalists do gooders have brought about the end of humanity by trying to release CW-7. It is a cooling system of some kind that is supposed to save the world but, instead, has killed almost every living thing on the planet. I actually found this quite humorous. Who would have thought of that in this day of political correctness that a film would blame the end of humanity on those who thought they were trying to save it? The survivors have all made it to the train and a class system has emerged within the train. The ‘low class’ or ‘dregs’ of society are in the back of the train and the rich and powerful are in the front. Yes the film blames the environmentalists for the end of the world but still paints all rich people as dirt and poorer folks as virtuous. It seems there could be a balance somewhere, but whatever. The poor folks are led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and Gilliam (John Hurt) and Curtis has devised a plan to unite the masses and fight their way to the front of the train. Car after car they go, fighting and dying and with each car there new surprises, some of them horrific. The closer they get to the front, the more they realize that not everything is as it seems.
Snowpiercer is a smart and intelligent action film but it has its share of poignant of moments, too. Based on the comic book series La Transperceneige which was written and illustrated by creators Jaques Lob, Benjamin LeGrand and Jean Marc Rochette. The film version is all Joon-ho Bong’s. The film looks great. The shots of the train plowing through ice masses and snow drifts are fun and the action on the train is well staged and flows naturally from the story and characters. It is simply not action for the sake of injecting action in a meaningless way. But Bong and Kelly Masterson’s script is thoughtful enough to give us characters that we come to understand, care about. Their drama of isolation and being cut off from the rest of the world is handled in a sensitive and classy manner and it does not preach.
Which brings me to star Chris Evans. Up until now, I have not seen him in very much and with the exception of the Captain America/Avenger franchise, I must say I have no been impressed. With films like London (a detestable film), the Fantastic Four trash and a decent film called Cellular, Evans seemed to coast on his good looks. That is until now. He still has his movie star good looks, but his performance as Curtis is Oscar worthy, in my opinion. He plays Curtis as a smart, resourceful but still quick on his feet young man who has made his share of mistakes in life but internalizes them. Yet, Evans performance is so effective that I felt nothing but sadness for him. The rest of the cast, which includes Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Ah-sung Ko, Kang ho Song, Alison Pill and Ed Harris is uniformerly excellent and support the story extremely well. Lest I forget Marco Beltrami’s industrious score which gives Snowpiercer some added punch.
My real criticism of Snowpiercer is that I came away feeling like I was missing something. It seemed to be incomplete. Rumor has it there is an extended director’s cut of over three hours floating around out there. I hope and pray that the studio will have enough sense to release the director’s cut on DVD. I guess the studio felt that the film viewing public are a bunch of simpletons who cannot focus on a film of more than ninety minutes or two hours if we keep our sugar up. I don’t understand this at all since great films like The Lord of The Rings trilogy, the uncut version of Dances With Wolves and numerous other big films are anywhere from 3 to 4 hours in length. Note to studios: We can take it. Trust us. These films are great films, longer than hell and enjoyable at every viewing. Snowpiercer deserves the same treatment.
Snowpiercer-*** out of 4